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Consultant: The time is right for open source in the enterprise

Bob Gett has been in this position before -- twice. When he was the CEO of Viant, he oversaw a company that was a pioneer in Internet-based business applications. Before that, he was a founding partner with Cambridge Technology Partners, which specialized in Unix client server architecture. Today, Gett leads Cambridge, Mass.-based Optaros Inc., a consulting firm with a distinctly "open" focus on open source applications. He said he sees the same conditions in the market that led to the .com boom of the '90s back again today, but the news centers on open source in the enterprise. As the founder and CEO of Optaros, Gett hopes to lead large and medium-sized enterprises down the open road to open source in 2005. Recently, Gett spoke with to give his analysis of open source in 2004 and what's to come in 2005. The time is right, he said, for open source to break through into the enterprise.

Reducing costs is an aspect of open source alternatives that have been mentioned repeatedly throughout 2004. What other aspects of open source will your consulting firm bring to the forefront in 2005?
We think there are other benefits that CIOs have besides cost, one being a dependence on one or two vendors and how open source eliminates that. Some people think this idea is great while others believe having only one or two vendors creates risk, but for me, it's a behavior that creates risk. A recent example is when Oracle bought PeopleSoft and, all of sudden, PeopleSoft customers were not sure what's going to happen. This dependency on one vendor is risk issue. The fact that there is whole swath of people out there maintaining any given open source-based application, as opposed to one or two software vendors, is an idea that will take some time to get used to. But ultimately, the idea of having 500 developers supporting an application means you get benefits of lots of updates and improvements. This idea behind open source is the opposite of exclusively dealing with one vendor where a customer is driven by their schedule and not their own. With open source customers are now open to implement more compact solutions -- enterprise software has become bloated and costly because of the need to do upgrades every year; customers have in fact more functionality than they really need. Not every IT organization is going to see benefits upfront, but over the long term, as open source models -- not just open source software -- get common, I believe they will.
The timing is right for a company to come in and help large and medium-sized enterprises take advantage of open source software.
Bob Gett
CEO and founderOptaros Inc.
What was a major open source accomplishment of 2004?
A major accomplishment for open source in 2004 was the fact that it was mentioned something like four separate times on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Open source and Linux have had plenty of technical achievements in 2004, but I am interested in open source as alternative, especially with CIOs and the challenges they have and how open source can be seen as an alternative to them. What do you predict will be the top story in open source/Linux in 2005? Why?
I believe it will probably be a major cover story in a business publication like Forbes or Fortune that will talk about early adopters who have taken open source beyond the data center and into their business applications. It will feature a sort of kickoff with senior executive questions about their opens source strategy. This is sort of the same thing with Internet- and Web-based applications -- an article on the cover of a publication in October 1998 about Amazon and Barnes & Noble that kicked off the Internet boom. I see something like that in 2005 with leading indicators open source is open for business in the enterprise. A major trend people should be looking at next year is that open source is going to get traction in business applications. Why have you decided to focus on the business application side of open source in 2005?
Over the summer, we conducted a report with 20 large IT organizations and found 40% have done something with open source applications. That was actually very surprising, as we did not think it was going to be that high. When you get to 30% to 40%, you have enough of what we'll call "critical mass" -- it makes sense to go into and start trying to provide some consulting. These companies are experimenting with open source or pilot groups -- the more senior developers have the most experience, they're the ones [working with] open source. That's what we like to see -- open source being treated as something special and on the leading edge. I've seen this before with the Internet and client servers as an early indicator that open source is going mainstream. Was there something in 2004 that you believed should have received more attention? Why?
There is an absence of service companies. [They] can help large enterprises plan, develop and support open source-based business applications, such as content management, work flow, collaboration and custom systems. I think that this is a big marketplace and it's fairly early, but as the enthusiasm builds with companies and customers, I think it's a good sign that companies like Optaros are building and establishing themselves in the marketplace. The more partners, the better in open source, so we need to kind of retrain ourselves not hoard all knowledge and "share the knowledge so to speak" in the true spirit of open source. Do you believe that open source applications are for everyone? Are there cases where you may advise against open source?
This coming year is going to be hazardous for us because what we want to do is become a trusted adviser. I've been consulting for a long time and to be successful you have to be trusted. To begin with, we won't be confined to selling anything or anyone a particular stack of open source products. At the same time, we [cannot] sell open source -- it's more educating CIOs and customers about the benefits of open source. Of course, the answer is not always open source, but we will seek to show where it makes sense and why it makes sense to a particular company. Sometimes the solution that is required is a mix of open source and propriety software. Could you talk more about this idea of "mixing" software?
With open source, there are about 80,000 projects out there and only about 100 that an enterprise should seriously consider. People will have differing opinions on this, of course, but in terms of what is viable and what works, we will try to add our 2 cents that only 75 out of 100 of all the projects are worth their time. We will get that information in front of the customer. For example: What viable content management, portal and database components do they need? The answer may be a mix like an Oracle database paired with an open source content management application.
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What do you believe 2005 offers that will allow open source applications and your company to thrive?
The timing is right for a company to come in and help large and medium-sized enterprises take advantage of open source software. In 2004 Linux and other more open source level components made great progress getting into the enterprise, mostly through adoption of specialized hardware, but our company is focus on applications side. We think there is more to this than just inexpensive hardware. It's about having choices and having risk reduction on the part of the CIOs who have to deal with building business applications or supporting those applications for end users who are always scream for more, while at the same time dealing with cost pressures.

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